Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We're Living in a Compromise, or, I'll Sell My Soul / What is it Worth?

So, Parliament has been prorogued.  The Olympics are coming.  And it looks like we won't be getting to the bottom (read: Peter MacKay) of the detainee scandal anytime soon.

I pass judgement on this latest development here.

Scott at The League has some thoughts on the scandal, and y'all should check him out.

At ThePolitic, I've caught a lot of flak for not toeing the party line - I was actually called a 'bleeding heart liberal', if you can beleive it.  Some people want to conflate this prorogation with last year's (which I, unpublishedly, supported).  There's also a lot of talk about senate committees and 'pressing the reset button' (gawd, I hate that phrase) and a whole bunch of other 'valid' reasons for prorogation.  I'm unmoved, but no completely unsympathetic.

So, why don't we make a deal?  Mr. Harper prorogues Parliament but promises to have a full, open, independent investigation into the willful blindness our officials displayed in Afghanistan.  If he makes such a promise, I will support his prorogation 100%.

(Sure, I don't believe promises from politicians, but I find their promises useful.  In this case, if he backtracked on such a promise, it would be all the more ammunition against the Conservatives.)

Earlier this evening the wife and I noted that one purpose of CG&A is seemingly random pop culture references.  So, a propos Scott's post (titled Burn, Baby, Burn), I give you the appropriately named Ash:

And on that note, here's my favourite Ash song:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Counting on the End of the World

There's a minor controversy in the U.S. regarding Christmas, the census and Jesus Christ:

A push to spread the gospel about the 2010 Census this Christmas is stoking controversy with a campaign that links the government count to events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials is leading the distribution to churches and clergy of thousands of posters that depict the arrival of Joseph and a pregnant Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. As chronicled in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph returned to be counted in a Roman census, but he and Mary found no room at an inn, and Jesus was born in a manger.

"This is how Jesus was born," the poster states. "Joseph and Mary participated in the Census."

Most of the posters are in Spanish and target Latino evangelicals, says Jose Cruz, senior director of civic engagement at the Latino association, which launched its Ya Es Hora (It's Time) campaign in 2006 to promote voter registration among Latinos.

It is promoting the Census, used to help allocate $400 billion a year in federal dollars, redraw state and local political districts and determine the number of seats each state gets in Congress.

This is, probably, blasphemous. It is, definitely, offensive. It is, comically, stupid.

Let's re-cap the actual story of Christmas.  An unrepresentative and oppressive government forces a pregnant woman, who appears to be term, to travel cross-country on a donkey to participate in a useless bureaucratic excercise.

Is this what the National Association of Latino Elected Officials are trying to say?  The oppressive, undemocratic U.S. government, via the census, imposes incredibly trying ordeals on pregnant women.

Oh wait, it gets better.

Upon the birth of Mary's (the dutiful census participant) son, Herod, the corrupt ruler, attempts to kill her son.  When that fails, he orders the murder of all boys under the age of two.  So, apparently, participating in the census will lead to the slaughter of children.

Of course, that's not the end of it.  Mary gives birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  So, apparently, participating in the census will lead you to give birth to the Son of Man.  Of course, this will be the second coming of the Saviour, which means, the End of Days.

Yup, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, participating in the census will lead to the end of the world.

Well, I guess if they're quite devout, they might welcome the Rapture.

(H/T: Hit & Run)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Deception of Big Numbers, or, In Praise of Second Derivatives

I was taking a cab today and the cabbie had the radio tuned to CFRA (a rather right-wing radio staiton in Ottawa).  My cabbie started laughing at Lowell Green (one of the talking heads on CFRA) and then started telling me about the Tar Sands in Alberta.

(I didn't really care.  I tend to agree with Lowell Green on a number of issues, but I still think him a buffoon, and I disagreed with what he was saying today.  Nonetheless, I find the infantile outlook that everyone you ever meet obviously agrees with your politics quite irritating.  It's generally a sign of narcissism coupled with a week mind.)

All that aside, the cabbie then went on to talk about a book he'd just read, Hot, Flat and Crowded, written by the mass murder apologist, Thomas L. Friedman.  Anyway, the cabbie decided to apply the idea of overpopulation to his native country, Ethiopia.

Apparently (according to Mr. Cab Driver), Ethiopia had a population of 27 million in 1988.  In 19998, the population grew to 58 million, and in 2009, the population was 77 million.  His analysis:  77 million!  The growth is out of control!

So, from 1988 to 1998, the population increased by 31 million, or 115%.

And, from 1998 to 2009, the population increased by 19 million, or 33%.

So, the growth between 1998 and 2009 dropped by 12 million, or 82 percentile points compared to the growth between 1988 and 1998.  In fact, the percentage growth dropped by 71%.

But apparently, the growth is out of control!

This is why math is important.

Speaking of math...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

So, Do We Still Think It's Okay to Randomly Hack off Bits of Little Boys?

Okay, really, outside of religious obligations, why does the developed world still think routine circumcision is fine? From peaceful parenting:
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
4-Yr-Old Hospitalized after Circumcision Escape AttemptIt happens yet again.

This morning a friend was telling me that one of her acquaintances causally mentioned to her that their 9 year old son is finally recovering from his circumcision - an amputative surgery inflicted upon him this past summer.

Why was it done?

A right of passage into manhood.

No, not in some far off land. Right here in North America.


Well, we do prohibit genital cutting on our daughters at any age...but we do nothing to protect our sons from the willy-nilly cutting off of their body parts.

Too often people believe there are no risks associated with the surgical amputation of the prepuce organ.


There are many risks. And every time a baby dies or seizures or lapses into coma or has a heart attach, or a boy ends up in the hospital with 1/2 his penis gone, or an infant suffers from uncontrolled hemorrhaging, or a newborn refuses to breastfeed after being cut -- we see these consequences of circumcision and just how grave and how frequent they are. And these are only the outwardly visible physical impact of genital cutting. It does not even touch on the mental, emotional, social consequences of such mutilation.
The article goes on tell the story of the mutilation of a four year old in New Zealand.  Apparently, this was part of the movement to 'circumsize the world'.  It's frightening that there are people who have a pathological obsession with cutting up little boys... and we don't lock them up:
A doctor who botched the circumcision of a wriggling four-year-old, severing an artery in the boy's penis, may face further disciplinary action, after a report by the Health and Disability Commissioner was released today.

The botched operation, which saw the boy require emergency hospitalization, was performed at an unnamed medical center in January by a general practitioner, assisted by a doctor unqualified to practice in New Zealand and the doctor's wife.


On arriving at the medical center, the parents and the young patient were directed to the waiting room, with the doctor busy performing a circumcision on another patient, a 14-year-old boy. The family were concerned to hear the screams of the older boy.


The boy's mother told the commissioner the child was taken into the operating room, was given an injection, then cut into seconds later, before the painkiller had time to take effect. Seeing her son in pain caused the mother to start crying, at which point she was ordered out of the room by the doctor, apparently for passing her anxiety onto the child and disturbing him.


After about an hour, the boy's father walked in to the operating room to see the doctor apparently talking to another doctor on the phone about how he didn't know what was going on.

He saw the clinic manager and the unlicensed doctor were holding the boy "as if they were holding a wild animal", the report said.

About an hour-and-a-half after the boy went into the operating room, the doctors called an ambulance, due to uncontrollable bleeding. The doctor, however, said the boy was subdued and calm, while the father complained of dizzy spells and became pale, and was asked to leave the room, lest he collapse during the operation.

He did admit the child became "extremely difficult to handle" and, due to the strength of the four-year-old's pelvic muscles, enlisted the aid of two people to hold him still. "It's really difficult because the pelvic muscles are tough and the forearm muscles are not that strong," the doctor said.
If you live in the developed world, there is absolutely no valid reason for partaking in routine circumcision.  If you subject your son to this unnecessary and dangerous procedure, you wronged your child.  If you were duped by doctors into thinking it was the best course of action, I feel sorry for you and your son, but it was your responsibility to learn about circumcision.  These days, the information is available, and it is wrong to abdicate your parental responsibility to someone else, regardless of that person's title.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Well, as Long as You Have Moved On...

The other day, I noted that Pittsburgh Steeler's Wide Receiver Hines Ward decided to bring into question whether or not Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should have played despite having a concussion.  It was a pretty wretched thing for Ward to do.

Well, now Ward has realized his error and apologized to Roethlisberger.  His comment about the matter:
"We talked. I'm not going to get into what was specifically said."


"The issue's been resolved. I apologized to the team today for having to even answer questions about this. We've moved on and getting ready for Oakland.''
 He created this whole situation by demonstrating insufficient concern over the severity of a teammate's brain injury when speaking to the press.  It's great that he apologized to Roethlisberger, but he doesn't get to just wave his hand and make everything magically go away.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Boys, We Need Less Sexism

It's too bad National Post's Adrian McNair (who also blogs at Unambiguously Ambidextrous) doesn't seem to understand the nature of sexism or even elementary biology.

In a recent post regarding New Brunswick Tory MLA Carl Urquhart, Mr. McNair defends Mr. Urquhart's overtly sexist comment (for which Mr. Urquhart had already apologized) against a misguided attack from a political adversary.  In doing so, Mr. McNair ignores the actual implications of Mr. McNair's unfortunate remark, using non-sequitors and incomplete - and, thus, incorrect - arguments about reproduction.

Ok, here's the background:

Via Facebook, Mr. Urquhart wrote, "Another Liberal budget ... Another $1 billion on the debt by March ... Girls we need more babies or we will never be able to support our future."

In response, Liberal MLA Joan MacAlpine-Stiles said, "To suggest to New Brunswick's young women that their only role in society and their only contribution to the New Brunswick economy is to have babies is demeaning and outdated thinking."

Mr. McNair, for some reason, decided to defend Mr. Urquhart, writing:
I don’t think feminists like Ms. MacAlpine can really expect to be taken seriously when they wave their fingers at men in this way. Nobody has suggested that the “only role” of women in society is to have babies, nor did Mr. Urquhart suggest anything remotely close to that in his Facebook update. The only observation Mr. Urquhart made is a correct one: we have a negative population growth that will not and cannot be offset without either a baby boom, an increase in immigration, or a reduction of spending in services. Something has to give.

The other point I’d like to make is that Mr. Urquhart appealed to the only segment of the population which, so far as my sexual education classes taught me back in grade school, are actually able to have children: females. Should he have posted an equal opportunity request for men as well?


For some feminists, or in these cases, political opportunists, the truth is less important than the appearance of standing up for women’s rights, no matter how fictitious the reality. When did we, as a society, become so sensitive to gender roles that we deny basic biological imperatives? Admitting we need to have more kids isn’t sexist. It’s being a realist.

First of all, labeling someone with whom you have a difference of opinion as part of your rebuttal is, at the risk of understatement, poor form.  I don't know if Ms. MacAlpine-Stiles is a feminist or not, and I don't really care.  It has no impact on the validity of her argument.

(And by the way, if she currently goes by MacApline-Stiles, and is named such in the story to which you link, don't call her Ms. MacAlpine.  It is, again, poor form.)

Second, I assume that Mr. McNair's sex education classes taught him more than the fact that women are the only ones who get pregnant.  Perhaps it also taught him that men are necessary in order for women to get pregnant (the inspiration for the current holiday season notwithstanding).  So, unless we are to have mass woman on man rape, thinking that reproduction can be left solely to the actions of "girls" is pretty ridiculous.

But let's get to one point that Mr. McNair does get right.  Mr. Urquhart never said that reproduction was the only thing that "girls" are good for.  Bravo.

Is this how low we are setting the bar to determine if something sexist was uttered?  If it is possible to infer from a statement that "girls" might be good for something other than procreation, we are to consider this enlightened discourse?

So, here's where we really get into things.  Let's assume that Ms. MacAlpine-Stiles is a feminist.  And let's assume that she is the caricature of all things bad about feminism.  And let's admit that she was wrong.  Mr. Urquhart's statement is still sexist.

First, he calls women "girls".  Sure, maybe he's trying to be fun and colloquial, but men - especially older men in positions of authority - have to understand the context of their speech.  The fact is, for much of the past few decades/century/forever, feminists have been right.  Men treated women wretchedly.  Men still do, but it is not as systemic or pervasive as it was in the past.  However, men with any sort of power have to realize that the weight of history will colour much of what they say.  Refering to women as "girls" (unless he's going to start arguing for a lot of child brides) is demeaning.  It is dismissive of women as a gender.  It treats women as some sort of other; individuals who do not have the stature or value of adult males like Mr. Urquhart.

Now, I doubt that Mr. Urgquhart meant all of this.  Most of us say and write things without an appropriate thought to the prism through which it might be viewed, but that doesn't really matter.  A male politician has to understand why it is inappropriate for him to write that.  And if he does not understand, then it must be brought to his attention.  Mr. Urquhart understands that what he wrote was wrong.  He has apologized.  It is bizarre that this blogger at National Post would then decide to stick up for him.

Further, putting assided any argument about female on male rape, Mr. Urquhart does put the onus on women (I'm jettisoning his word "girls" for the rest of the post) to take care of procreation.  I don't know if this means promiscuity, chasing after men, unsafe sex or choosing to have a family when one might not have otherwise done so.  Again, this is a statement that, I charitably assume, ignores the significance of history.

Mr. Urquhart is implying that other desires and goals of women must accommodate being a mother.  He's not saying women can't do other things, just that their lives should include motherhood.  He is making no similar exortation for men to be fathers.  Again, considering how women were, historically, relegated to the role of wife and mother, to turn only to women to take on the role of parent is to echo the oppression that we have only recently deemed so distasteful.

But let's ignore women for now.  Let's look at the other side of the family/babymaking coin.  Mr. Urquhart makes no demand of men.  He sees a need for an increase in the birthrate (which leads to an increase in childrearing), and he makes no call to men.  His comment is not just offensive to women; it is offensive to men (though, let's admit, less so).  I assume he doesn't really think men have no place in the raising of a new generation, but he certainly implies it.  To diminish the importance of men in the reproduction of the species - by completely ignoring them when discussing the reproduction of the species - is to do what so many people blame cartoonish feminists of doing.

I do not understand why Mr. McNair would come to Mr. Urquhart's defense.  It was reasonable to point out the incorrect claim made by a rival MLA, but that does not require defending the indefensible.

The enemy of your enemy is not, necessarily, your friend.  Sometimes, he's just a guy who wrote something stupid on Facebook.

(H/T: @stageleft)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Please, Mr. Obama, Disarm.

I did not watch the president's speech last night.  I did, however, read the speech, and I found it uninspired and uninspiring.  I've long supported the war in Afghanistan, though recently I've been thinking it's time to just get out.  Perhaps Mr. Obama's plan will work.  I hope it will.  If he's going to mortgage the lives of so many soldiers, I hope there is a happy ending.

But I'm really skeptical.  Further, I don't think he actually laid out a viable case supporting the war.  That's not to say that there isn't one, just that he didn't make it.  Of course, TV orations aren't really the forum for deep policy analysis, so I'm willing to cut him some slack.

Nick Gillespie has a nice quick reaction to the speech at Reason:
While I think the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was never warranted, I think the invasion of Afghanistan was a legitimate use of American military power. The country was on the hunt for the people behind the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban government was clearly working hand in glove with them. When the trail went cold, the reason for us being in Afghanistan became far less clear. Are we nation or region building there? And if so, don't the myriad objections that Democrats and Republicans alike used to throw up in opposition to such efforts apply? If it's all about gutting al Qaeda and de-surging the resurgent Taliban, then what's with the timetable for exit?
Of course, the whole reason for this post - and especially the title - was to show this clip of Smashing Pumpkins playing at the '94 MTV Awards:

I was starting my final year of high school when this was aired.  I had a lot of friends in bands (including some I played with).  Most of my friends thought this sucked.  One of my friends agreed with me that it was an awesome performance.  He's the one I'm still friends with fifteen years later.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Ask Don't Tell vs. Defense of Marriage Act

At The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Scott H. Payne expresses his displeasure with President Obama regarding two issues relating to civil rights and equality for gay people:
It is, I suppose, until one sees the run-off impacts of pushing the need to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the Defense of Marriage Act off to another day, or not having a President who believes in equal rights under the law speak loudly and clearly of the need to support marriage equality, or inviting Rick Warren to participate in the inauguration of that President in the harsh and unforgiving light of purely putative and explicitly discriminatory legislation elsewhere.
I don't share Scott's disappointment in Barack Obama (I didn't have particularly high hopes for him, and he claimed to oppose same-sex marriage during the campaign), however, I share his displeasure with the lack of corrective action regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell.  It is a vile policy that should be repealed forthwith.

However, I'm not as convinced about DOMA.  According to wikipedia, DOMA has two effects:
  1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
  2. The federal government defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman.
I'm fully in support of the first effect.  Civil marriage is, rightfully, the domain of each individual state.  The federal government has no standing to impose the decision of one state on another.  This means there will be unfair treatment of homosexual couples, but there will be a fair process of establishing what is considered civil marriage in each state.

It may seem paradoxical - to support same sex marriage, but also to support a state's right to deny recognizing it - but procedural justice is important for democracy and liberty.  Proposition 8 in California is wretched law, and I am no fan of plebiscites to decide such matters of policy.  However, it was a step up from the previous situation, in which gay marriage was forced on the state by judges.  Prop 8 may have lead to a poorer policy, but it was an improvement in terms of the democratic process in California.

The second effect in DOMA seems a little less defensible.  If DOMA is to leave marriage in the hands of each state, it seems odd to then have the federal government defiantly refuse to acknowledge any legal same sex union.  I can see how this is a very tricky situation.  The federal government must treat everyone the same, and, thus, until all states support same sex marriage, the federal government might be required to fully oppose it, lest it lead to some other challenge (equal protection, perhaps?) that would facilitate a federal court to impose gay marriage on all states.

If all the the second point does is safeguard against such an imposition by federal courts, I'm all for it.  However, it seems to me that it is not only safeguarding traditional marriage definitions in some states, but also negating same sex marriage in other states.  That seems to strike against any notion of federalism.

Now, I may be reading too much into it, and it might just be necessary to fully protect federalism, but it just seems quite wrong.  I would prefer DOMA be stripped of this portion, or at least have it re-written to read something like, "[t]he federal government defines marriage as a legal union between two people, in accordance with the laws of the state in which they reside."  I'm fully aware this could lead to all sorts of other problems (and I'm not a lawyer... or even an American... so I'm just taking a blind stab at this make believe legslative writing), but the spirit is more in line with what I would wish to see in any legislation like DOMA.

It is these sorts of intricacies that lead to a slow and methodical approach to crafting public policy, and, generally, this has its benefits.  However, if you have no philosophical hang ups to gays in the military and no philosophical objection to the judicial imposition of same sex marriage, there is little reason for caution.

And from that perspective, I fully understand Scott's despair.

Because Winning is Absolutely Everything

Hines Ward, wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is sometimes lauded as a tough, gritty player.  At other times, he is reputed to be one of the dirtiest players in the National Football League.

But apparently, he, perhaps along with other Steelers, is just a bad person:
The Steelers find themselves in the midst of a three-game losing streak and in the teeth of controversy Monday after WR Hines Ward suggested some in the Steelers' locker room might have wanted QB Ben Roethlisberger to play in the Week 12 loss to Baltimore in spite of a concussion.

Ward made the comments to NBC in an interview aired before the Steelers fell 20-17 in overtime to the Ravens with Dennis Dixon, not Roethlisberger, at quarterback.

"This game is almost like a playoff game," Ward said in a transcript released by NBC. "It's almost a must-win. I could see some players or teammates questioning, like 'It's just a concussion. I've played with a concussion before.' It's almost like a 50-50 toss-up in the locker room. Should he play? Shouldn't he play? It's really hard to say.

"I've been out there dinged up, the following week, got right back out there. Ben practiced all week. He split time with Dennis Dixon. And then to find out that he's still having some headaches and not playing and it came down to the doctors didn't feel that they were going to clear him or not. It's hard to say. Unless you're the person itself.

"I've lied to a couple of doctors saying I'm straight, I feel good when I know that I'm not really straight. I don't think guys really worry about the future while they're playing currently in the NFL. … Trust me, the players want to go out there because these games you don't get back. You're never going to get this Baltimore-Pittsburgh game back. This is a big game. Unfortunately, Ben can't play, so the 53 other guys have to rally the team and see if we can win one down here."
Of course, Ward eventually walked back from the comments:
After the game, Ward said that finding out just one day before the game that Roethlisberger was out was "frustrating." However, he indicated he wasn't being criticial toward Roethlisberger.

"You really don't want to mess around with concussions," Ward said. "Guys have concussions and still play. But you have to look at the whole big picture. When the health comes into question, you got to look at the long-term effect. When I said that, I really wasn't saying (it) in a negative towards Ben. You have to be concerned about it because we don't know what the future may hold considering all the research on concussions. I wish we would have had him out there. But we didn't, and we fell short."
Ward's obvious realization of what he said does not absolve him of having said in the first place.  Regardless of the whether or not he was one of the players that considered Roethlisberger's injury "just a concussion", by spreading such a noxious opinion, he is responsible for its implications.  The NFL has not done enough to protect players from the effects of concussions, to tragic results.  Ward, and anyone holding this opinion of Roethlisberger's injury, need to gain some perspective.

Thankfully, Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin had a better understanding of the gravity of the situation.  Although Roethlisberger dressed for the game, Tomlin told the crew of Monday Night Football that the quarterback would only play if the two other quarterbacks got injured - and even then all he would do was hand the ball off, never being exposed to further injury (and likely ensuring a Pittsburgh loss).

He understands the relative importance of a football game compared to a young man's health.  Nothing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Talkin' 'Bout Torture at ThePolitic.

You can read my thoughts on the revelations of Richard Colvin here.  Long story short: I have no doubt that mistakes have been made.  The more the government and the military circle the wagons, the more we desperately need a public enquiry.

Until then, the Conservatives are complicit in torture.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Teh World is Ending !!1!!!1!

At ThePolitc, I write about the climate change debate.

I don't really have much more to add here; I just wanted to use this post headline, which wouldn't quite be appropriate at ThePolitic (and, no, there are no typos in it).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Peter Hume Deserves to Get Turfed Out of Office

From The Ottawa Citizen:
The leader of the city council committee bringing in a new service charge to pay for the green-bin program says it’s too late to make significant changes to the program.

Councillor Peter Hume said Tuesday that contracts have been signed and bins are being distributed, so it’s not possible for the city to retreat from the $17-million program now.

Addressing councillors on the planning and environment committee and reporters later on, Hume said the communication of the project, including the method of paying for it, hasn’t been very well executed. But Hume said the city must proceed with an organics diversion program to save space at the city's big Trail Road landfill and improve on a second-to-last-place performance on waste diversion among major Ontario municipalities.

Councillors have been getting an earful from residents who don’t want to pay for the green-bin service and don’t even want the bin.
So, Peter Hume thinks that the communication for the Green Bin program has been poorly executed.  Well, guess who's ultimately responsible for that: Peter Hume.

Of course, the councillors are circling the wagons:
Several committee members blamed media for misleading reporting of the issue.
Well, that certainly put me in my place.  It's all the media's fault.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What Have I Done?

At ThePolitic, I penned a bit of a comment on a recent essay by Scott H. Payne at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.  The basic topic was gay marriage and promiscuity.  As I've mentioned, ThePolitic tends to be conservative, and, consequently, one generally doesn't witness a whole lot of support for gay marriage.

That's fine.  Here's the amusing part.  I guess, because of my post, the ad that is currently being displayed in the sidebar is this.

So, how about I include The Smiths:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

All Politics Is Local, Ottawa Edition

There's lots going on in Bytowne these days, and little of it is encouraging.

Spending is out of control at city hall.  Tax increases and special levies are on their way, much of them hidden; all the better to hide the ineffectual leadership of the city.
The city’s budget for next year appears to be headed toward increases far beyond this year’s 3.9-per-cent tax increase. As of Tuesday, the property-tax increase from various departments stood at 3.26 per cent, but that doesn’t include a two-per-cent special levy for fixing infrastructure, or the library or police budgets. The police budget is expected to add about one per cent to the tax increase.

A major increase in fees is proposed with the transfer of waste collection — blue box, black box and a new green-bin compost-collection program — onto the garbage collection bill, which is part of the annual property-tax bill. If council approves this change, the current tab of $86 for garbage would see the addition of $41 for recycling services and $68 for the green bin, bringing the total bill to $195.
Because there's nothing better in the middle of a recession than a tax hike.

So, what are we spending all this money on, that is prompting the tax increases?  Well, for one thing, "Green Bins".  The city will now collect biodegradable substances that we used to throw in the trash.  It sounds great - and, no doubt, it has its benefits - but it appears that it wasn't really thought out that well.  It's going to cost a mint, no one can opt out of it, and we're on our way to having a garbage gestapo:
City homeowners will not be able to choose not to take part in the green-bin program. In fact, the city is hiring five inspectors to see that waste that can be recycled is kept out of landfills.
The cost of the green bins will be added to residents' utility bill, so that the city can keep the tax hike as low as possible.  This is such a neat trick that they've decided to shift the cost of all recycling programs from the regular tax bill to the utility bill (though don't expect to see any corresponding property tax deductions).  The genius behind this (from a gouge-the-taxpayer standpoint) is that residents tend not to notice (or, at least, complain) about increases to these special fees.  That's what they've seen with the water and sewage bill.  It regularly gets hiked by 9% a year with nary a peep from the citizenry.

But, you may ask, there must be more that is driving the need for these explicit and implicit tax increases?  Well, there's transit.  The operating costs of OC Transpo far outstrip the revenue that it generates.  For some reason, this isn't seen as a problem with their business model, but as an obligation to be foisted on the rest of us through increased taxation.  OC Transpo is so horribly managed, that they were proposing to raise rates by 7%.

This rate increase was suppose to keep the increase in the city's transit budget at a mere 12.7%.  However, the conventional wisdom of the city's Transit committee is that it is unfair to expect riders to pay anywhere close to the actual cost of riding the bus.  The 7% fare increase is out and the burden on the city will now be rising by 16%.

(This seems like another good argument for getting the city out of the transit business.)

Police and emergency services are getting more expensive, too, but surely there can't be much to complain about when we're wasting resources (and risking lives) with a pointless war on drugs.

'Luckily', with all the problems we're having with our budget we have the province and the feds wasting money in Ottawa, as well.  If nothing else, it's nice to see all three levels of government working so well together.

Thankfully, there is a tiny bit of good news.  Councillor Alex Cullen had presented a motion to have all landlords licensed by the city.  Despite his conviction to this awful idea, the rest of council voted against it:
He argued it would make bad landlords comply with property standards for fear of losing their licenses. Opponents cited the cost and ineffectiveness of licensing as reasons to vote against it. Instead, the committee passed a motion by Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes that encourages the city’s bylaw officers to work with community groups in pro-actively inspecting problem rental properties.
 See, there are some good things about Ottawa.  Like Emjay:

And Capital Sound performing at Winterlude:

(Yeah, I'm kidding.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

To Ignore an Argument has Three Legs Does Not Make it So

At five feet of fury, Kathy Shaidle links to an "observation" about Latinos (I assume in America) and academic success:

* Latino and white infants share a fairly equal level of cognitive skills — vocabulary, listening and problem-solving skills. But by the time they’re toddlers, Latino children are lagging in all three areas, according to a study led by researchers at UC Berkeley ( 10.20.09) .
* The reasons? Larger Latino families and Hispanic-dominant mamás working full-time means there's less individual time with each child. Also, Latina mothers tend to be less educated than their white counterparts, so they read fewer books and share fewer stories with their children. That's fundamental for building a growing child's skills.
Ms. Shaidle's response, in a post titled, Last time I checked, lots of white women worked full time too:
But the real explanation can't possibly be genetic or anything!
Now, I'm disinclined to think that the explanation is genetic or anything.  I'm more inclined to think circumstance, social life and, possibly, culture are better explanations.  Nonetheless, Ms. Shaidle's implication is correct; I have no data or evidence that the explanation isn't genetic.  That's not really my issue with this post.

I have a good deal of respect for Ms. Shaidle.  She's been a prominent warrior for free speech and she uses that freedom with few inhibitions.  There's never much guesswork needed to determine what Ms. Shaidle truly believes.  However, I think this post of hers is disingenuous.

To be clear, I think the title of this post is disingenuous.

Of the "reasons" that are given to explain the disparity between the academic success of whites and that of Latinos, not one is that Hispanic women work full time.  Period.  Full stop.  The argument is that Hispanic families have a greater reliance on mothers than have white families and Hispanic families tend to be larger and an increased number of Hispanic mothers are working full time.  It is the convergence of these three 'facts' (along with Latino mothers having a tendency to be less educated than white mothers) that leads to the disparity in academic success.

This Hispanic-Dominant-Mama hypothesis might be complete bunk, but if Ms. Shaidle wishes to demonstrate that it's complete bunk, she needs to do more than attack just one facet (and, arguably, the weakest facet) of this complex argument.

Naturally, if there is anything resembling a nature vs. nurture debate, I have to post this:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hiding Behind a Pound of Flesh

The Mark is having a debate about the faint hope clause (which allows for an opportunity for parole for those sentenced to life in prison), which the Conservative government is currently trying to get rid of.  The editor of The Mark, Jordan Himelfarb, offers this little chestnut in his introduction to the debate:
It’s a debate that raises, among myriad considerations, a fundamental question of government: Does our justice system exist primarily to protect or to punish?
I believe there is a fundamental concept of justice that needs to be served (hence my belief that Roman Polanski needs to be extradited).  Punishment and protection are important, but secondary to this abstract concept.  Nonetheless, as a practical matter, Mr. Himelfarb is correct.  The question of protection vs. punishment is at the heart of many of our quandries about criminal law.

Punishment is extremely important.  Punishment serves our sense of justice.  If we see those who have caused so much pain and suffering - who have done such nefarious acts - receiving no punishment, society's faith in the system is eroded.  Our sense of justice is insulted and, consequently, we have less trust in the system and in the government agencies that serve justice.  How can we respect the police, judges and legislators if they serve a perverted master?  We need not (and should not) seek revenge, but we should administer punishment.

However, punishment cannot be our primary motivation when building our justice system.  Punishment for its own sake is the first step towards a system inspired by vengeance.  We will forget our goals and we will forget justice.  Quenching our thirst for blood will offer no reward.  Eventually, we will seek greater and greater torment visited upon our transgressors.  Rehabilitation will be lost; people will be lost.

For practical concerns, we must look foremost to protection.  We must strive to create a system that not only satisfies our abstract need for the abstract concept of justice, but also leads to a society in which people can feel safe and trust that the system is doing no harm.  Just as a system that offers no punishment will damage our sense of justice and our faith in the system, so too does a system that makes life worse for us all.

I can't think of an argument to value punishment over protection, but maybe I'm just not thinking about it the right way.  I'd be happy to listen to any such arguments.

P.S.  I have some other thoughts about the debate at ThePolitic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apparently, We Really Do Think with Our Penises

Alright, that title is a little glib, but it's not completely inaccurate.

It's a lonely battle to fight against circumcision.  You're fighting against rarely challenged "tradition", religious beliefs and, sometimes, intentionally deceitful releases from the CDC.

Anyway, some doctors and health practitioners decided to study the effects of circumcision on a boy's brain.  At peaceful parenting, Dr. Momma posts the results as told by Dr. Paul D. Tinari, Ph.D.  Here's what he has to say (warning, the post has graphic images of circumcision):
As a graduate student working in the Dept. of Epidemiology, I was approached by a group of nurses who were attempting to organize a protest against male infant circumcision in Kinston General Hospital. They said that their observations indicated that babies undergoing the procedure were subjected to significant and inhumane levels of pain that subsequently adversely affected their behaviours. They said that they needed some scientific support for their position. It was my idea to use fMRI and/or PET scanning to directly observe the effects of circumcision on the infant brain.
A neurologist who saw the results to postulated that the data indicated that circumcision affected most intensely the portions of the victim's brain associated with reasoning, perception and emotions. Follow up tests on the infant one day, one week and one month after the surgery indicated that the child's brain never returned to its baseline configuration. In other words, the evidence generated by this research indicated that the brain of the circumcised infant was permanently changed by the surgery.

Our problems began when we attempted to publish our findings in the open medical literature. All of the participants in the research including myself were called before the hospital discipline committee and were severely reprimanded. We were told that while male circumcision was legal under all circumstances in Canada, any attempt to study the adverse effects of circumcision was strictly prohibited by the ethical regulations. Not only could we not publish the results of our research, but we also had to destroy all of our results. If we refused to comply, we were all threatened with immediate dismissal and legal action.

I would encourage anyone with access to fMRI and /or PET scanning machines to repeat our research as described above, confirm our results, and then publish the results in the open literature.
Okay, there is a fairly significant problem with their study; they only have one subject.  One set of MRI results does not data make.  Nonetheless, this does not excuse the behaviour of the hospital administration as they try to suppress this information.  If anything, the findings demand publication, if only to invite refutation.

But we will have none of that.

In general, people do not seem to want to have circumcision challenged.  They don't want to know that their religious practice damages infants; men who have been circumcised do not want to think that there is anything "wrong" with their members; and no one wants to think that they are inflicting pain and permanent (or just temporary) damage on their children for frivolous or misguided reasons.

Nonetheless, doctors are scientists, or they are supposed to be.  The unseemliness of a topic or the potentially horrifying revelations are no reason to reject knowledge and blindly accept (and advocate) a procedure that physically alters (read: mutilates) otherwise healthy and helpless infants.

This is a topic that needs to be explored.  We need to know what we are doing to these boys.  We already know that circumcision offers no health benefits to the average North American male, now we need to learn the ramifications of this cosmetic procedure.

Or we could just stop routinely and mindlessly mutilating little boys.

Egg on Mao

Over at The Politic, I note that there is a book release tomorrow night (well, "tonight", since it's after midnight) for Egg on Mao.  It seems like an important book, and I hope to be at the release.  I'd encourage anyone who can to attend.

Here are the details:

The Cube Gallery
7 Hamilton Ave. N (about a block away from the Parkdale Market)
Ottawa ON
Tuesday October 27
7:30 pm

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm Sorry; I Really Am.

At the risk of gross understatement, it can't be easy to have been raped at 13, and it can't be easy to try to deal with it being dragged up again, decades later.  So this is quite understandable:
The victim in the Roman Polanski sex case has called for charges against the director to be dismissed, court filings showed Monday.

Lawyers for Samantha Geimer, who was 13 when Polanski had sex with her in 1977, called for the dismissal in a court motion filed in Los Angeles on Friday.
Unfortunately, it's not about her, at least not completely.  A rapist has evaded the law for thirty years.  Justice requires  that he brought be forced to face up to his crimes.  No matter how cold it may sound, the issue is greater than the desires of one victim.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tell Me It Isn't So

A propos of this post by Dr. Dawg, it looks like we won't be pursuing charges against a Minnesota nurse who counselled a Carleton University student into killing herself.

Here's how the lead investigator, Staff-Sgt. Uday Jaswal, explains the decision:
“We weren’t satisfied that a criminal offence had taken place,” Jaswal told Chevalier in a tense conversation in her Brampton home.
“Obviously Nadia was in conversation with someone who is quite sick,” Jaswal is heard saying on Chevalier’s recording.
“It’s a very disturbing conversation. But given the totality of what had happened, given the totality of the evidence that we had seen in terms of her own pursuit, in terms of going to a variety of sites, looking at suicide methods, we couldn’t establish any sort of cause and effect between that conversation and her suicide.
“I wouldn’t have been comfortable going ahead with criminal charges, even if we had potentially a person that was identified,” he continued.

However, as noted in the article in The Ottawa Citizen, and by one of Dr. Dawg's commenters:
Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code states anyone who “counsels a person to commit suicide, or aids and abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to” as much as 14 years in jail. The key terms — counselling and abetting — both mean giving some form of encouragement.

Dr. Dawg brings up the question of whether or not cajoling someone into suicide should be protected by freedom of speech.  Not being a legal scholar, I couldn't say definitively, but I'd be inclined to think it is, sadly (though I'm open to being persuaded otherwise).  Nonetheless, I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over such an infringement on freedom of speech.

But all that is immaterial right now.  We have a law on the books, and it is up to the cops to enforce the law (putting aside any potential issues of jurisdiction).  I hope the Ottawa Police will realize their error and begin the process of justice for a troubled young student.

Entrapment, Thy Name is Tall Cans

A "murderer" has been set free.  The fact is Kyle Unger was not a murderer, and we (as a society) never had any reasonable information to think that he was.  Yeah, sure, he confessed, but let's take a look at how the RCMP got that confession:
It was 1991, a year after Ms. Grenier's strangled and beaten corpse was found murdered near Carman, in southwestern Manitoba. Mr. Unger was working on a small hobby farm.
Two Mounties posing as tourists with a broken motor home approached the farm's unsuspecting owner. "He offered them a place to park the motor home," recalled Mr. Unger. "They played it out that they had to wait a few days for parts."
The two men offered to work around the farm, to pay for their stay. One of the men was particularly friendly. "We got to know each other," said Mr. Unger. They went out drinking and hit it off. Mr. Unger was soon offered a place in their criminal organization.
Soon he was delivering packages that, he believed, contained wads of ill-gotten cash. "The money they were giving me, here and there, just to get me through the day was immense.... They'd say, ‘There's a pizza place across the street, go for supper,' and they'd chuck me 200 bucks.
"They gave me a penthouse suite with a liquor cabinet in there. I was drinking constantly," Mr. Unger recalled.
According to court documents, Mr. Unger insisted to his new associates that he had not murdered Ms. Grenier; the two undercover officers often raised the topic.
After a few weeks he was introduced to Big Larry, the supposed crime boss. Mr. Unger was offered tall cans of beer, which he downed in succession.
"[Another undercover officer] tells me you whacked somebody. That's fine with me," Big Larry said to Mr. Unger, according to court transcripts. "That's, that's f---ing excellent.... That's the kind of person I'm looking for."
Hoping to obtain more work and bigger lumps of cash, Mr. Unger eventually told Big Larry that he had killed Ms. Grenier. He then gave details of the murder that turned out to be incorrect. But the confession still proved powerful and he was convicted by a jury.
So, in order to get a confession, the cops gave this man (who doesn't appear to have been particularly wealthy) lots of money, lots of booze and an apartment (stocked with lots of booze).  They bring him to meet Big Larry, give him some tall cans and encourage him to admit to a murder that he did not commit.  He, not wanting to jump off the gravy train, told them what they wanted to hear.

The cops might want to check this out.

The RCMP found a petty criminal (and he admitted to as much... not while being coerced) and found an easy way to up their conviction rate.  Apparently, policing isn't about justice, it's about deadlines.

It's kind of funny that, now, there is some concerns about the legitimacy about the Mr. Big method of catching "murderers", but more so, it's just sad.

Organic Farming, Federalism and Police Brutality

Over at Stageleft, there are a couple of good posts up that should draw together progressives and libertrians.

First, there's a post about Industry Canada forcing the construction of a wireless internet tower after the municipal council already voted it down, resoundingly.  The worry was that it would damage organic crops.  I have no idea if this is true, but it's always sad to see bureaucrats trample local democracy.

Next, there's a post about police brutality in Victoria.  They have the video, and it's pretty damning.  I'm perfectly willing to believe that the two suspects were wretched people who deserve lots of jail time.  Nonetheless, cops should not walk on the back of people's legs when they're lying submissive, face down (and that's just one transgression by the cops).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What About, Maybe, Reading Her a Book?

Baby Einstein creates mindless drones.
Parents who feel duped by claims that Baby Einstein videos were brain boosters for their infants and toddlers can now get a refund for old merchandise from The Walt Disney Company.
The company has agreed to cough up the cash through an extended DVD return policy after a lengthy campaign by a coalition of educators and parents, who complained Disney's marketing materials implied their videos for babies under two years of age were beneficial for cognitive development.
The move to compensate some customers comes after Baby Einstein — a Walt Disney Company — stopped using some claims following a complaint lodged with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Tell me this isn't kinda sad:
But when Murray's active daughter "just stayed planted for the entire length of the video," he became troubled by her response and ditched the DVD. He also found academic studies that questioned their value for young children.
So we shouldn't just plop our kids in front of the TV?  Huh... never would of thought of that.

I guess maybe now we can tell parents that these DVDs are educational

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Rainin' Men, Hallelujah, It's Rainin' Men

It's starting to look like I'm the resident liberal at ThePolitic.  I've written posts in favour of Jack Layton, blasting Stephen Harper and arguing for full(ish) funding of abortion.  Now I've gone and written two posts about "Gay Rights".

First, I argue that a U.S. war resister should be allowed to stay in Canada.  She was put in danger by the ridiculous Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the U.S. military.

Then I note that interracial marriage is a-ok, as is gay marriage.

By the way, about ten years ago I attended a reception for a gay wedding.  When the DJ threw on It's Raining Men, the dancefloor went crazy.  It was a damn good time.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Economics Is Not a Hard Science.. and No One Ever Said It Was

The cry, "economics isn't a hard science!!", is a common one when people object to economic analysis, but, seemingly, don't actually want to address the specifics of the analysis. Hell, it's even been used against me.

Here's the thing, no economist, or student of economics, has ever claimed otherwise.  Economics is a social science, and not even the most science-y of those (from my experience in first year, I'd say that award goes to anthropology).

It's may be true that the dismal science can't prove anything, but it can provide a lot of evidence.  If you don't like the conclusions, address the conclusions drawn from the evidence or address the relevance of the analysis.  To claim that because economics isn't a hard science we shouldn't use it to address economic issues is intellectually vacuous.

Should we be throwing darts at a wall, instead?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I Consider Myself Pro-Life... Sorta...

As I've already noted, I wrote a post at ThePolitic arguing that under a government funded system of health care/health insurance, the government had to fund abortion.

A lot of the discussion has focused more on abortion than on the more narrow point I was trying to make (which I knew it would, and, in fact, I think people stayed more on topic than I thought they might).  Naturally, a lot of people take the post to imply that I am pro choice, and I guess compared to some, I am.  However, I am not completely comfortable with that designation.

My basic position is that at the very beginning of pregnancy, the fetus (please allow me to use that word no matter what stage of gestation we're at - I don't want to look up the actual terms) is not a person.  It does not have personhood; it is not human in the "inherent dignity of humanity" sort of way.

The moment before birth, the fetus is a person.  The fetus has a soul, and deserves all protections that we would afford any other person, even those outside the womb.  So, the question becomes, when does the fetus become a person?  And, I don't know.  I'm guessing that when we get close to viability, the fetus is a person.  In terms of development, 24 weeks seems like an okay time to decide that a fetus is legally a person.  Again, I have no certainty of this, and I am open to persuasion, but that's my best rough guess.

So, I support early stage abortions.  I oppose late stage abortions.  (And, by the way, at the point that we would outlaw abortion, I'm against a rape exclusion.  I'm sorry, I know it seems cold and cruel, but at the point that the fetus is a person, the circumstances of conception do not alter its/his/her inherent dignity.  I hate writing this, but if abortion is wrong, it's wrong.)

Now where does this leave me on the choice/life spectrum?  I have no idea.  The reason that I would self-identify as pro life if I was forced to wear a label is because I am slightly more concerned about protecting life than protecting choice (though I think both are important).  Basically, if presented with the absurd choice of outlawing all abortion (let's exclude true medical reasons) or allowing all abortion (up until the moment before birth), I would choose the former.

Of course, this doesn't mean much.  I'm not going to be presented with such an option.  I just thought it best to lay out where I stand as I drag myself into this debate.

[Update: I should note that I am taking this as a very simplistic binary hypothetical.  I am not taking into account any political implications - such as, which position would move us to a better situation - or real world implications - such as the proliferation of back alley abortions.]

On another, similar, note, writing at RH Reality Check, Jodi Jacobson quotes a lengthy passage from my post in a Roundup of abortion and reproductive health articles.  Needless to say, Ms. Jacobson is now my favourite reproductive health blogger.

...well, for the sake of my marriage, maybe my second favourite reproductive health blogger.  (Ticking off the wife would probaby make my reproductive health moot.)

Anyway, this is probably as good a time as any to post this:

And if I'm blogging about Ben Folds and sex, however tangentially, I have to post this:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Now I've Done It

Over at ThePolitic, I have a post arguing for public funding of abortion.  For those who don't know, ThePolitic is fairly conservative (as my views may be described at times), so I'm sure it won't be embraced by all.

If you want to come to my defence, feel free!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Freedom of Religion Means Just That

The Mulsim Canadian Congress wants Canada to ban the burka (and the niqab and masks, in general).  They claim (no doubt correctly) that the wearing of a burka is regularly forced up women by men.  According to The Ottawa Citizen, they claim that wearing a burka is not protected by freedom of religion.

I am sympathetic.  The burka is a tool of oppression.  It can rob women of their identity, their liberty and their sense of self worth.  I am confident that many who "choose" to sport a burka are suffering from a false conciousness, groomed to be submissive and assuming the choices of others as their own.  I hate seeing women wear burkas and I find a lot of the justifications offensive.  I will be happy if the world is one day rid of this scourge.

None of that matters, though.  Wearing a burka is protected by freedom of religion.  It is a matter of basic personal liberty.  My objections to burkas and the objections of the Muslim Canadian Congress are immaterial.  The government has no place deciding what personal religious expressions are permissible.  As much as I am horrified by burkas, I am also horrified by the notion that wearing burkas might not be protected by the Charter.

(P.S. If you want to read a superb takedown of a similar initiative, read Julian Sanchez.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Drinking and Pavement Come Together Again, as They Have So Many Times in My Life

I'm not a big fan of MADD.  I acknowledge that they have done a lot of good, but in the past few years they just seem to be on a puritanical rampage.

And they're still at it.

Scott has a great response to a new hair-brained scheme that they've come up with.  Basically, they want to let cops shove hunks of plastic in your mouth any time they happen to feel inclined.  From the CBC:
The federal justice minister is considering a new law that would allow police to conduct random breathalyzer tests on drivers, regardless of whether they suspect motorists have been drinking.
Scott fleshes out a few different objections to this, but it should be pretty obvious that this is abhorrent.  Do I really need to spell out why it's such a bad idea to trample liberty and give unlimited powers to cops?

Of course, since we're talking about breathing, I can't resist:


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lost in Transmutation

This is kind of amusing.  Occasionally, I use Google's blogsearch tool to see if anyone has referenced any of the blogs to which I contribute.  Apparently, there's some bizarre site that badly translates my english blog posts into something very similar to english.  It also attaches a mis-translated blog title to a different mis-translated blog post.

Here's a taste:
Jim Flaherty, Free Trade and the Faculty of Me |

On the specific issue of an HS T, I cant agree with Mr. Gordonn.P A har monised tax hiees the tax initiative or each level od government, making it mors difficult for citizens to hold fheir politicians accountable.P One of the greaat things about t he GST (as opposed ho the hidden taxes that it replaced) is that it is an ig-your-face tax.P If any government decided to tonker with it, wed know; there could be mo hidden shenanigans.P But this is a little beside thd point.
See that smile ig your face!

Meanwhile, over at ThePolitic...

I have a post up here about increased regulation into the daycare industry in Massachusetts.  Commenter RD challenges my (and other commenters') objections.  We have a bit of back and forth in the comments (I just responded to his second comment, and I'll be happy to read any more he has to write).  I enjoyed it, and I hope others will too.

And if anyone wants to join in, either here or at, feel free.

Okay, this was just too obvious, since I write about children, I just had to throw it in...

Yeah, I know, it's pretty horrible, but if we're talking about kids, how about this...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Free Trade Uber Alles

This is good news.  Canadian cities had been contemplating retaliatory trade restrictions as a reaction to the United States' 'Buy American' provision in the recent stimulus package.  Thankfully, they are shelving this idea.

I understand why cities (or any level of government, for that matter) would be inclined to start a trade war.  If it's all the leverage you have against a trading partner to fight their protectionist stance, maybe you've got to do it.  Unfortunately, competing protectionism will leave Americans and us poorer than if we invoked unilateral free trade policies.  Sure, it wouldn't be as good as complete, bi-lateral free trade, and, yes, it kind of sticks in one's craw when they're doing something right when other parties are not, but vindictiveness or emotional reactions are not going to help anyone.  Getting our backs up because of misguided policies in the U.S. will reap no benefit.  It will just make all of us poorer.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do You Go to Carleton University? Do You Want a Job?

If there are any readers from Carleton University, I will be participating in a Q&A session tonight.  I believe the event is for students only.  Here are the details:

Porter Hall
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm  -  Q&A session
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm  -  Networking

There will be five of us on the panel.  I don't know who the other panelists are, but, no doubt, they will be useful resources for anyone in attendance.

I'm a little under the weather, so I may not stick around for the Networking session afterward, but if you see me and would like to chat, just let me know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vaccines Are Always Good. Always.

The National Post reports that the seasonal flu shot may raise the risk of H1N1.  This comes from an unpublished study, and hasn't been confirmed, but it's still interesting.

Of course, you'll find no mention of this on The Ottawa Citizen's H1N1 site.  They're bastions of journalistic integrity and they know better than you what's best.  Obviously, the reporters know that this medical research is bunk.

They couldn't just be ignoring a story that doesn't fit with their editorial stance, could they?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dude, Where's My Semi-colon?

It's National Punctuation Day.

Fine, the guy who invented it is from California, so maybe it's not our National Punctuation Day.  Nonetheless, it'd be worthwhile for Canadians to employ proper punctuation (and grammar and syntax).

For those wondering, this is CG&A's approved style guide.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apparently, Health Care Workers are Bad People, Too

Recently, The Ottawa Citizen has been publishing columns in which they call those who are skeptical of the (as of yet undefined) H1N1 vaccine misguided and playing politics, and selfish.  We are, pace The Citizen, bad people.

Well, according to the... Ottawa Citizenhealth care workers are bad people, too:
Chocolate bars, lottery tickets and free lunches.

Many incentives have been tried in hopes of persuading Ottawa hospital workers and others on the front lines to get seasonal flu vaccines, but the numbers who roll up the sleeves of their uniforms stay stubbornly around 50 per cent.

This has public health experts worried and wondering what tack to take this year. Vaccinating Ottawa's health workers to protect patients and also keep hospitals and clinics running is the cornerstone of plans for coping with the H1N1 virus. After all, if doctors, nurses and other health-care workers fall sick at the peak of the pandemic, it could hobble the local health-care system.

Yet many strategies to encourage vaccination have failed. And making shots mandatory will meet with huge resistance, it's predicted.
Thankfully, Premier Dalton McGuinty and unions won't let anyone mandate vaccinations.  (Yes, I am commending McGuinty and unions.  Yes, I hear four sets of hooves.)

Nonetheless, let's look at the ways that health officials are trying to entice workers to get vaccinated: bribery.  And they're not just bribing individuals; they're trying to create pressure within departments to coerce everyone into getting vaccinated.  As a former HR professional, that sounds like creating a hostile work environment.  That's harassment.

Of course, the article does mention a novel approach to increasing the vaccination rate: explaining to people why it's safe.  If health officials will address the issue honestly and in good faith, maybe more of us will be convinced.

Or they could keep threatening people's jobs.

Apparently, I'm an *sshole

Speaking of H1N1 vaccinations, here's an editorial from today's Ottawa Citizen:
With a second wave of H1N1 flu on the doorstep, Canadian public health officials face a serious stumbling block in their battle to contain the coming pandemic: the anti-vaccine movement.

People who refuse to be vaccinated -- because they have misguided medical fears or because they're making a quasi-political statement against the scientific "establishment" -- could derail progress aimed at reducing the effects of this disease, the result being that a lot of people could get seriously ill and die.
 This editorial is quite a piece of work.  Apparently, we're either misguided or we care more about political statements than we do our health if we're a little worried about the shady process that has quickly brought this vaccine (whichever version and dosage they wind up using) to market.  I guess such judgementalism even applies when it is doctors expressing concern.

This editorial is a stunning bit of disorganized rhetoric.  They acknowledge that there are reasonable concerns, but then go on to dismiss them out of hand.  They conflate anyone with any skepticism with people who were duped by a bogus study about autism, then gloss over the concerns of a Guillaume-Barre outbreak in the 1970s.

And let's not forget, this is the newspaper that scrubbed from an article any concerns about the vaccine.  Far from assuaging concerns of this vaccine, The Citizen has continued to show that supporters of vaccination are unwilling to actually address the concerns about this particular vaccine.

With each breatheless story of the anti-science, anti-reason, anti-vaccinationists (as if that's a word), I become more and more entrenched in my skepticism.  If advocates of this vaccine would actually address the reasonable concerns that some of us have, I'd be much more open to getting it.

As it stands, editorials like this do a disservice to the public.  It's quite likely that this vaccine could save many lives, but this take-it-because-we-say-so attitude will not save anyone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The League of Foreign Policy Experts

Scott H. Payne has started a more thorough discussion on the (potential) debate on Canadian foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan.  His post is thorough and thoughtful, as are the comments.

Oh, and I made a minor contribution as well.  Y'all should head over there and play along.

...and no one is allowed to type the words "muscular intervention" on this blog.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

When Soldiers Try to Do the Right Thing

Less than a month ago, William L. Calley apologized for his role in the My Lai massacre.  For those who don't know, the My Lai massacre was the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed South Vietnamese people on March 16, 1968 by U.S. soldiers.  It's pretty much the iconic representation of military abuse of civilians.

In 1993, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was struck with scandal when we learned of the torture and murder of a Somali teenager (you can read about it here, but there are graphic photos).  It took a while, but eventually the soldiers involved were brought to justice.  The Airborne Regiment was soon disbanded, but the shame lingered.

We know of the Moscow theatre hostage crisis, Abu Ghraid prisoner abuse, the Katyn massacre, and comfort women.  Military scandal and abuse is nothing new.  However, the impression of the general public can be that the military generally (or regularly) tries to hide these scandals.  Soldiers circle the wagons, and there's a code that precludes them from talking.  It's not necessarily fair, but it is what it is.

So, what do we do when soldiers come forward and tell us that innocent boys are being raped?  Why, we spend a few months investigating and decide that there's nothing to worry about:
Although it was acknowledged among Canadian troops and some military police that Afghan security personnel were sexually abusing children, investigators took just 11 weeks to determine there was nothing to the concerns raised by a soldier who said he witnessed such an incident, according to Defence Department records.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service decided not to send any of its investigative team to Afghanistan but came to an initial determination in October 2008 that there was little to a soldier’s claim he had seen two Afghans sodomizing a young boy at a Canadian installation outside Kandahar.
Why are we in Afghanistan if we're just going to be complicit in child rape?  If investigators are going to be so dismissive, we may as well just get out now.  We obviously don't have the best interests of the Afghani people in mind.  Let's pull out and investigate these investigators.

And good for the NDP and Liberals for holding the Tories' feet to the fire.

A 5% Sales Tax is Just Not Enough, Dagnabbit!

At ThePolitic, I make the argument for increasing the GST.  Here's a tease:
Consumption-based taxation leads to fewer market distortions, encourages investment and simplifies tax remittance procedures, essentially freeing private individuals of all transaction costs related to paying taxes...
Our taxation is messed up.  It needs to be changed.  Feel free to pop over to ThePolitic and tell me how right or wrong I am.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

No Editorial Left Behind

The Ottawa Citizen seems to think that the mediocre results of standardized tests in Ottawa schools is both an argument for the status quo and an example of school choice - as if an inflexible oppressive system (where you are not allowed to go to the school of your choice, sometimes, even, when you live a few blocks away) is a bastion of dynamic educational experiences that students and parents can easily access.

It's bad enough that The Citizen comes out stumping for standardized tests - there is no evidence that provincially established testing does much good; standardized tests lead teachers to "teach to the test", and it also encourages them to cheat - but it is quite sad that they don't understand any of the objections to their beloved tests:
Strangely, some critics respond by questioning the value of standardized tests. Teachers' unions don't much like the tests, denouncing these instruments as political tools that waste classroom time and don't reflect student achievement. It could also be, one suspects, that unions don't like outsiders poking their noses into classrooms in an effort to find out if teachers are doing their jobs.

Most reasonable people and certainly most parents in Ontario support testing. Indeed, the tests, administered by the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office, are crucial to assessing how well Ontario's school system works and, when it doesn't, how to improve it. Without this information, policy- makers would be in the dark about much of what goes on in classrooms. Parents would have no way of knowing how the quality of education at their child's schools measures up relative to other schools.

Can anyone explain how The Citizen knows that "most reasonable people... support testing"?  Was there some sort of statistical analysis done or do they just think of those of us who disagree with their assertion to be, definitionally, unreasonable.

But really, that's not the worst of it.  Perhaps the worst of it is The Citizen's obsession with standardized testing data and their fetishizing it as some sort of market force that will drive school competition:
Parents and teachers devour this information. School boards realize that people are watching, and this creates a useful climate of competition.
Here's a little tip for the editors at The Citizen, if the only way to try to change schools is to move, there's no true choice and, thus, no real "competition".  If I had to sell my house in order to choose Coke over Pepsi, no one would praise the wonderful competition.

There is no evidence that standardized testing does anything but make students better at taking standardized tests.  If you want to make schools better (and I assume we all do), we need to offer students real competition.  We need to break down the artificial barriers that keep so many kids out of the schools of their choice.  We need to give kids real opportunities to learn and build better lives.

Or we could just obsess about tests.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the Children Who Just Cried

This is a sad story:
James Westcott, 66, admitted the young girl touched him during two separate incidents that occurred sometime between July and December 2008. He was arrested after the girl told her mother about what happened last December.
This aspect of the story is, potentially, just as sad:
A former elementary school teacher cleared of sexually molesting 11 of his young female students more than a decade ago pleaded guilty Wednesday to inviting a three-year-old girl to touch his penis.
In his decision dismissing the charges in 1999, Ontario Superior Court Justice Roydon Kealey said he found portions of the girls’ testimony “underwhelming” and there were too many “concerns and problems” surrounding it for him to convict Westcott.
Kealey noted that after “rumour and innuendo” began to spread through St. George’s about Westcott, several parents pressed their children to see if they had been touched. It was only under pressure from their parents, the judge noted, that the young girls made the allegations.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and claim that this conviction means that he was actually guilty of the allegations from 1999, but I think it's reasonable to start wondering.

In the 1980s, a wave of hysteria about child abuse hit North America.  Allegations of sexual abuse and satanic rituals being performed on children arose across America (and in Britain, too). Daycare Centres were shuttered, innocent people were jailed, and hundreds of children were put through the torment of recounting sadistic, and sometimes bizarre, sexual abuse.

Maybe some of it really happened.  A lot of it didn't.  Law enforcement, district attorneys, parents, psychologists and social scientists joined in on the hysteria; in fact, they stoked it.  Careers were made; reputations were manufactured; children were manipulated.  What may have started out as good intentions, turned into tragedy on a grand scale.

In 1993, Dateline NBC presented a story on GM trucks that were, allegedly, likely to explode during a side impact.  A couple from Atlanta had sued GM, as this was the cause of the death of their son, and, consequently, GM was in for a public shaming.  Unfortunately, it didn't go down that way.

Dateline decided, to make sure they got the best shot, they'd need to make the truck explode.  Days later, GM spoiled the party and exposed Dateline's deception.  Now, thanks to Dateline and their manipulation of tragedy, GM became the victims.  They won the PR war.

So, what to make of James Westcott?  Could overzealous prosecutors, police officers or psychologists have embellished the case against him in 1999 to try to ensure that they convicted a monster?  I can't say.  I did a search online, but I couldn't find any information from the 1999 case.  I hope this isn't what transpired, but still, the uncertainty just hangs there.

We worry so much about the boy who cried wolf.  We worry that false allegations of sexual abuse will have a chilling effect on future victims.  We worry that with each Crystal Gail Mangum and Tawana Brawney there will be more people who decide to suffer in silence, unwilling to come forward for fear of neither being believed nor being treated with sensitivity.

James Westcott could have been abusing a child in 1999, but hysteria could have so corrupted the case that the legal system had no choice but to turn him free.  Hysteria may have unleashed this monster on other children.

When we worry about the boy crying wolf, perhaps we should worry that the wolf is hurting someone else as the little boy cries out.